University of Rhode Island
Ruby Roy Dholakia
University of Rhode Island
University of Rhode Island
Prepared for The Internet Encyclopedia, edited by Hossein Bidgoli, New York: Wiley,
Acknowledgments: The authors are grateful to multiple reviewers of The Internet
Encyclopedia for detailed and valuable comments on earlier versions of this chapter.
2. Internet Diffusion: Historical Overview
2.1. Internet Diffusion Prior to 1980
2.2. Internet Diffusion During 1980-90
2.3. Internet Diffusion After 1990
2.4. Future scenario
3. Global Diffusion of the Internet
3.1. Internet Diffusion in Africa
3.2. Internet Diffusion in Asia
3.3. Internet Diffusion in Europe
3.4. Internet diffusion in Latin America and the Caribbean
3.5. Internet Diffusion in North America
4. Theories of Diffusion and Adoption of Innovations
5. Factors Impacting the Diffusion of the Internet
5.1. Economic Factors
5.2. Socio-cultural Factors
5.3. Geopolitical Factors
5.4. Measures Taken by International Agencies
6. Summary and Conclusions
Adoption of an innovation is a micro process that focuses on the stages through which an
individual passes when deciding to accept or reject the innovation.
ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), developed by ARPA with
support from the United States Department of Defense, can be considered as the origin of
all the networks, including the Internet. Arpanet lines were considered super fast for their
time, 56 kilobits per second. ARPA and DARPA are used interchangeably, as the agency
has used both names over the course of its existence.
Diffusion of an innovation is a macro process concerned with the spread of the
innovation from its source to the public.
Interface Message Processors (IMPs) are the packet switches developed by the Defense
Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA) in 1968.
Information and communications technologies (ICTs) include technologies that
facilitate the capturing, processing, storage, transfer, and presentation of information.
Internet host refers to a computer system connected to the Internet — either a single
terminal directly connected or a computer system that allows multiple users to access
network services through it.
Network Control Protocol (NCP) was the initial ARPANET host-to-host protocol
developed by Network Working Group (NWG) in 1970.
NSFNET (National Science Foundation Network) was the first backbone for the U.S.
portion of the Internet. It was originally conceived as a way for researchers to submit jobs
to supercomputers located at various universities around the U.S.
Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) was designed to meet the
needs of an open-architecture network environment. TCP verifies the correct delivery of
data from client to server. TCP adds support to detect errors or lost data and to trigger
retransmission until the data is correctly and completely received. IP is responsible for
moving packets of data from node to node. IP forwards each packet based on a four-octet
destination address known as the IP number. IP operates on gateway machines that move
data from department to organization to region and then around the world. In the future,
IP is projected to move to six-octet addressing.
This chapter provides an overview of the global diffusion of the Internet and examines
the factors that shaped and are continuing to shape the diffusion dynamics. The diffusion
pattern of an innovation such as the Internet is a function of economic, political, cultural
and geographical factors. In addition, business models vis-à-vis the cost to access the
Internet also influence the diffusion of the Internet. Since social systems worldwide differ
significantly in terms of these factors, diffusion patterns of the Internet also vary widely.
Among the factors hampering the faster diffusion of Internet in many countries are low
income levels, authoritarian governments with distaste toward the openness of the
Internet, sociocultural environments that are incompatible with the Internet, and
terrestrial and topographical barriers to landline networks. As a result, developing
countries account for disproportionately fewer numbers of Internet users and Internet
hosts worldwide, creating a global digital divide.
Since the 1970s, the number of countries connected to the Internet has increased steeply
from 60 in 1993 to 214 in 2000 (see Figure 1). Despite this growth, the Internet has a
highly asymmetric global distribution (e.g., Kshetri 2001). There were 40 million people
worldwide using the Internet regularly in 1995 (Media Metrix 2000). This jumped to 131
million by the end of 1999 (Pastore 2000) and to 606 million by September 2002 . An
estimate by Angus Reid Group (2000) suggests that that there will be one billion Internet
users by 2005.
Figure 1 about here
Internet is the fastest diffusing Information and Communication Technology
(ICT) innovation to date. For instance, it took just 10 years for the Web-based Internet to
reach 50% of American homes, compared to 52 years taken by electricity and 71 years by
telephone (Thierer 2000). It took only three years for the Internet to reach 50 million
users. By contrast, it took 38 years for radio and 13 years for television to have 50 million
users (Bell and Tang 1998). During 1999, the number of Internet users increased by one
million every month (McLaren 1999).
Figure 2 about here
The global distribution of Internet penetration and use, however, is far from
uniform (see Figure 2 and Figure 3). Developed countries account for a
disproportionately high number of Internet users worldwide: 61.7% of the world’s
Internet users live in North America and Europe, for instance, but they account for less
than 20% of the world’s population. As of May 2002, less than 0.1% of Africans had
access to the Internet compared to 52.2% of North Americans. Similarly, as of 2000,
developing countries with 84% of the world’s population had fewer than 6% of world’s
Internet users (Futurist 2000). The discrepancy is even greater for the number of Internet
hosts worldwide: North America and Europe account for almost 90% of Internet hosts
while Asia-Pacific with over 60% of the world’s population and 31% of the world’s
Internet users contribute only 8% of the total number of Internet hosts worldwide .
Figure 3 about here
There are, however, some encouraging signs. For instance, Internet users
worldwide grew by 30% in 2001 and one third of the new users were from developing
countries (UNCTAD 2002).
Since the Internet is a “new product”, an analysis of the pattern of its spread
worldwide and within a given country from the perspective of innovation diffusion and
adoption literature could provide valuable insights into the factors driving the diffusion
dynamics (Takacs and Freiden 1998). Diffusion and adoption patterns of an innovation
are functions of several elements including characteristics of the innovation itself, the
channel of communication, the nature of the social system, and time (Rogers 1983).
Since social systems around the world differ in terms of several dimensions,
diffusion patterns of the Internet vary widely across countries. In this chapter, some of the
key differences in Internet diffusion pattern around the world would be highlighted.
In the chapter, we examine the global diffusion of the Internet and the factors
influencing the diffusion dynamics. The remainder of the chapter (a) provides a brief
historical overview of global Internet diffusion, (b) discusses the global diffusion patterns
of the Internet, (c) integrates theories from diverse perspectives that help explain the
diffusion and adoption phenomena, (d) discusses the factors that are likely to shape the
global diffusion of the Internet, and (e) provides some conclusions.
INTERNET DIFFUSION: HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
The Internet passed through various stages to arrive at the present situation. The first
wide area network (WAN) was developed in 1965. It took another four years for the first
two hosts in the ARPANET to be connected. The graphical format of Internet as we
know it now emerged in the 1990s.
Internet Diffusion Prior to 19801
President Eisenhower’s request for funds to create the Advanced Research Projects
Agency (ARPA) within the U.S. Department of Defense in 1958 laid the foundation for
the Internet. The packet switching theory first published by Leonard Kleinrock of MIT in
1961 was a major step towards computer networking. In August 1962, J.C.R. Licklider,
also of MIT, proposed the “Galactic Network” concept. The Galactic Network concept
provided a remarkably prescient view of contemporary Internet – it envisioned a set of
globally interconnected computers through which data and programs could be accessed
from any site. In October 1962, Licklider became the head of the computer research
program at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). He also convinced
his successors at DARPA of the importance of the networking concept. Under a military
contract, Paul Baran of Rand Corporation wrote key memoranda in the early 1960s
outlining the “survivability” of a distributed, packet-switched network, even under
conditions of a major nuclear attack. As Rand Corporation states in its historical notes2:
All of the nodes in this unusual network would have equal status; be autonomous;
and be capable of receiving, routing, and transmitting information. Under Baran’s
concept of distributed communications – now called packet switching – each
message would be broken into a series of short, fixed-length pieces, and each
would be sent as an individually addressed packet that would find its own way
through the network by whatever route happened to become available, jumping
from node to node until it reached the final destination. If parts of the network
were destroyed, the self-sufficiency of each node plus the data within the packet
allowed the node to seek alternative ways of moving the packet along.
Next, it was necessary to make the computers ‘talk’ to each other. In 1965, MIT
researchers Thomas Merrill and Lawrence G. Roberts were able to connect the TX-2
computer in Massachusetts to the Q-32 in California. This was the first wide-area
computer network. In 1966 Lawrence G. Roberts, who had joined DARPA, put together
his plan for the ARPANET.3 Kleinrock’s Network Measurement Center at UCLA was
selected to be the first node on the ARPANET in September 1969. In October 1969,
Stanford Research Institute (SRI), about 350 miles to the North of UCLA, provided a
second node and the first host-to-host message was sent from Kleinrock’s laboratory to
SRI. Two more nodes were added at University of California at Santa Barbara and
University of Utah. Four host computers were connected together into the initial
ARPANET, the forerunner of today’s Internet, by the end of 1969.
This section draws from Leiner et. al. (2002).
It is interesting to note that independent of the U.S. efforts, Donald Davies of the National Physical
Laboratory (NPL) in U.K. proposed development of a nationwide packet communications network, based
on a packet size of 1024 bits – the same packet size that Paul Baran had proposed in the U.S.
The number of computers connected to the ARPANET grew rapidly after 1970
(See table 1). In December 1970, the Network Working Group (NWG) finished the initial
ARPANET host-to-host protocol, called the Network Control Protocol (NCP). As the
ARPANET sites completed implementing NCP during the period 1971-1972, the
network users finally could begin to develop applications. In 1972, electronic mail was
introduced. Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN), a consulting firm started by MIT
professors Richard Bolt and Leo Beranek and their student Robert Newman, sent the first
person-to-person email using the @ symbol in the address. To meet the needs of an open-
architecture network environment, Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf developed the Transmission
Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) in 1973. TCP/IP proved remarkably resilient
and enduring as a means of managing data communications networks.
Table 1 about here
Starting from the mid-1970s, computer networks grew rapidly. ARPANET
expanded internationally by connecting to University College of London (England) and
NORSAR (Norway) in 1973. Most of the early networks, however, were closed
communities of scholars. There was virtually no pressure for the individual networks to
be compatible and hence they were not.
Internet Diffusion During 1980-90
Various developments in the 1980s facilitated the diffusion of the Internet. The number
of Internet hosts grew by 500 folds in this period, from 200 in 1980 to 100,000 in 1989
(Table 1). In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee wrote the program known as “Enquire Within”
which was a predecessor to the World Wide Web (WWW). Other developments include
IBM’s announcement of the first personal computer in 1981 and foundation of Cisco
Systems in 1983.
The ARPANET host protocol changed from NCP to TCP/IP on January 1, 1983
to meet the needs of an open-architecture network. In the November of 1983, the domain
name systems (DNS) such as .edu, .gov, .com, .mil, .org, .net, and .int were created.
Symbolic.com became the first registered domain on March 1, 1985. In 1985, the
National Science Foundation (NSF) also decided that TCP/IP would be mandatory for the
Internet Diffusion after 1990s
The Internet was opened to the public in the early 1990s. Major technological
developments such as Tim Berners-Lee’s creation of the World Wide Web (WWW),
development of Mosaic Web browser in 1993, Sun Microsystems’ release of Java, and
release of Windows 1995 further facilitated the diffusion of the Internet (Webopedia
2002). As a result, the Internet grew significantly in the 1990s, in terms of the number of
hosts, number of users, and global coverage. The number of Internet hosts increased from
200,000 in 1990 to 104 million in 2000. By 1990, major countries across the world such
as Australia (AU), Germany (DE), Israel (IL), Italy (IT), Japan (JP), Mexico (MX),
Netherlands (NL), New Zealand (NZ), Puerto Rico (PR), United Kingdom (UK),
Argentina (AR), Austria (AT), Belgium (BE), Brazil (BR), Chile (CL), Greece (GR),
India (IN), Ireland (IE), Korea (KR), Spain (ES) and Switzerland (CH) were already
connected to the NSFNET (Goldstein 2000). Several smaller and less developed
countries were gradually connected to the Internet.
Along with the exponential growth in the number of Internet users worldwide, newer
means to access the Internet keep appearing. In particular, Internet access by mobile and
broadband technologies is experiencing rapid growth worldwide. For instance, by 2009,
cellular phone subscribers in the world are expected to outnumber fixed line subscribers
(ITU 2000). Furthermore, over 25% of e-commerce is estimated to take place over
handheld sets by 2005 (Shaffer 2000).
The number of broadband subscribers worldwide is estimated to cross 46 million
by the end of 2002 (High-Speed Internet Access 2002). The annual worldwide broadband
growth rate for the period 2002-04 is projected to be in the range of 61% to 150%
(Lammers 2001). Whereas cable modem service is gaining popularity in the U.S., Digital
Subscriber Line (DSL) has become the main broadband access technology outside the
U.S. Other broadband access technologies such as satellite broadband, fiber-to-the-home,
and fixed wireless service accounted for 5% of the worldwide broadband market in 2002
(Communications Today 2002).
GLOBAL DIFFUSION OF THE INTERNET
Starting with just a few countries in 1990, the number of countries connected to the
Internet crossed 200 by mid-1998 (WIPO 2000) and 214 in 2000. The diffusion pattern
of the Internet, however, varies widely across the world. Table 2 details the global
distribution of the number of Internet users in September 2002. North America, where
the Internet originated, has over 182 million users accounting for 30% of the world’s
users but only 5.6% of the world’s population. Europe, with its early connection to the
ARPANET, currently has the highest number of Internet users (over 190 million). Asia-
Pacific, with over 60% of the world’s population, is experiencing some of the most rapid
growth in recent years and is expected to double its number of Internet users by 2005.
Table 2 about here
Internet Diffusion in Africa and the Middle East
In the Middle East region, Israel was a pioneer in connecting to the Internet – in 1989,
along with selected, key European and Asian nations. African and other Middle Eastern
nations came to the Net much later. By connecting with the global network in 1993,
South Africa and Tunisia became the first African countries to join the Internet
(Tripod.com 2002). By 1998, all African countries except Congo had Internet connection
(CITI 2000; Tripod.com 2002). South Africa dominates this region’s Internet market4
followed by Israel, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia (Table 3).
Table 3 about here
According to the State of the Internet Report 2000 of the U.S. Internet Council,
Internet diffusion in Africa has been hampered by factors such as poverty, low computer
penetration, illiteracy, lack of trained personnel, disinterest and a failure to understand the
benefits of Internet access (CITI 2000).
Internet Diffusion in Asia Pacific
Internet is growing very rapidly in the Asia-Pacific region. The number of Internet users
in this region is expected to increase to 374 million by the end of 2005 (Rao 1999).
In discussing ICTs in Africa, Ya’u (2002) tellingly points out that “of the 157,325 Internet hosts in
Africa, 144,445 are in South Africa, leaving less than 10,000 for the rest of Africa.”
Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand dominate the region’s Internet market so
far (Table 4). China and India, however, are the fastest growing Internet markets in this
region (Javalgi and Ramsey 2001; Kshetri 2002). Each is expected to have more Internet
users than the U.S. by 2010 (Nua Internet Surveys 1999b).
Table 4 about here
Internet Diffusion in Europe
Most of the European countries introduced the Internet much earlier than their
counterparts in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For instance, University College of
London (England) and NORSAR (Norway) were connected to the ARPANET as early as
in 1973. Similarly, Germany (DE), Italy (IT), Netherlands (NL), and United Kingdom
(UK) were connected to the NSFNet in 1989 and Austria (AT), Belgium (BE), Greece
(GR), Ireland (IE), Spain (ES) and Switzerland (CH) were connected in 1990 (Goldstein
2000). Germany and the U.K. dominate the Internet market of this region (Table 5).
Table 5 about here
Internet Diffusion in Latin America and the Caribbean
Compared to North American and European economies, the Internet is a relatively new
phenomenon in Latin America and the Caribbean. The region, however, is experiencing
phenomenal growth in the number of Internet users. A survey conducted by Nazca
indicated that use of the Internet tripled in this region between 1995 and 1997 (Tudor
1999). The networks in most of the Latin American economies were established during
1995-99 (Hahn 1999). By connecting to NSFNet in 1989, Mexico became the first
country in Latin America to connect to the Internet (Goldstein 2000). As table 6
indicates, big Latin American economies such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico dominate
the Internet population in the region.
Table 6 about here
Internet Diffusion in North America
North America, the original locus of the Internet, accounts for disproportionately higher
numbers of Internet hosts and Internet users compared to the rest of the world. By 1999,
the U.S. had over 98 million Internet users and 40 million hosts (Euromonitor 2001b).
Canada, similarly, had over 11 million Internet users and 1.4 million Internet hosts by
1999 (Euromonitor 2001b). These numbers have been growing rapidly, and reaching
Most of the countries that connected to the Internet very late, connected in very limited
ways, or did not connect at all did so not because of economic reasons but because of
political or religious reasons. Commenting on Internet-free countries in 1996, Maslen
(1996) made the following observations:
In June 1996, just twenty countries remained with absolutely no e-mail or Internet
connection: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Congo, Gabon, Guinea
Bissau, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Mauritania, North Korea, Oman, Rio Muni, Rwanda,
Somalia, Syria, Western Sahara, Yemen, and Zaire. … Of these countries, more
than half are in Africa, in most cases only recently (fifty years or less) free from
colonial rule…. Many of these countries are not wealthy, but there are surprising
exceptions. Libya, Western Sahara, Oman and Gabon are relatively affluent, so
their abstention from the Internet cannot be explained in purely economic terms.
Politics, economics and international diplomacy have always been involved in the
spread of the Internet. Sixteen of these twenty ‘unwired’ countries are Islamic, or
have large Islamic populations. …At least six Internet-free countries have been
involved in destructive internal or external conflicts in the last ten years… Iraq,
Libya, North Korea and Somalia (a fifth of the no-Internet countries) have all
been on poor (or hostile) diplomatic terms with the United States … [There is
also] a definite (two-way) correlation between countries’ levels of democracy and
Internet connectivity. Sixteen of the twenty unconnected nations possessed very
low levels of democracy.
THEORIES OF DIFFUSION AND ADOPTION OF INNOVATIONS
A deeper and richer understanding of the multifaceted and complex processes of
diffusion and adoption of the Internet requires an integration of theories from diverse
perspectives such as political science and international relations, sociology, marketing,
communications, information systems, and geography.
Theoretical and empirical evidence suggests that politics and government policy
play important roles in the diffusion of modern ICTs. Diffusion theories that relate
diffusion pattern with political structure in a country argue that a technology is not
equally compatible with all types of political structures. These theories, for instance,
predict that authoritarian governments have relatively less favorable attitudes towards
developing interpersonal means of communications such as the telephone and the Internet
(e.g., Groth and Hunt 1985; Kshetri 2001; Kshetri and Dholakia 2001). Groth and Hunt
(1985), for instance, postulate that Marxist governments allocate relatively smaller
proportion of resources for the development of interpersonal communications means. The
unfavorable attitude towards the Internet has hampered the growth of Internet in countries
with authoritarian regimes such China, Cuba, and Syria.
Diffusion of innovations also entails “interaction between life-experience and
history” (Erben 1993) and hence theories from sociology may help explain some aspects
of the diffusion dynamics. For instance, the cultural imperialism hypothesis (Tomlinson
1991) – western control of mass media combined with human desire to improve their
lives leads consumers from developing countries to imitate the developed ones – could
help explain the role of global media in the diffusion of modern ICTs in developing
countries. Similarly, the technology-society compatibility (Gatignon and Robertson 1985;
Rogers 1983) theories could help explain why a particular technology is more compatible
in certain societies than others. Past research has found that the ‘country-level effects’ or
the ‘societal effects’ (Kshetri and Dholakia 2002; Zaheer and Zaheer 1997) have strong
influence on technology adoption behavior of firms and individuals in a country.
Since diffusion of innovation requires an understanding of “people, hardware,
software, communication networks and data resources that collects, transforms, and
disseminates information” (O’Brien 1996), theories from information systems are well
suited for explaining such aspects of the diffusion and adoption phenomena.
Diffusion and adoption of ICTs entail decisions at various levels (individual,
organization, national, international) about allocation of scarce resources (Andrews
2002). Economic theories help explain how individuals, organizations and governments
make decisions regarding the allocation of resources in ICT investment. Basic demand
and supply theories are helpful in explaining the varied distribution patterns of the
Internet across countries. For instance, income can be expected to be positively
associated with the demand of modern ICT products (Gatignon and Robertson 1985;
Rogers 1968, 1983).
Geography and geopolitics are important aspects of international business in
general (As-Saber, Liesch and Dowling 2000) and global diffusion of innovations in
particular. Geopolitical theories help in answering questions such as, “… Why are things
located where they are? How do different places relate to each other? How have
geographic patterns and relationships changed over time?” (Baerwald 1996, p. 23).
Geopolitical variables include population (Cohen 1963) as well as characteristics of
populations such as skills, educational qualifications, productivity, and the cost of labor
(As-Saber, Liesch and Dowling 2000; Baerwald 1996). Literacy rate and English
language skills are other geopolitical factors likely to influence the diffusion of
innovations. Such skills are associated with the availability of information and the
proficiency required to use a new technology or the ‘inter-relatedness’ among users and
producers of the technology (Cassiolato and Baptista 1996). The diffusion of a
technology is negatively related to the disparity between the skills needed to use the
technology and the consumer’s existing knowledge (Gatignon and Robertson 1985). High
illiteracy rates have hampered the adoption of the Internet in less developed countries.
Geopolitical variables such as geographical distance between adopting units (Gatignon
and Robertson 1985) influence the level of terrestrial barriers and hence the diffusion of
the Internet. Origination of the Internet in the U.S. is one of the major factors
responsible for the disproportionately higher number of Internet users in North America.
Furthermore, high-bandwidth backbones were created first in North America, followed
by Europe, and the data traffic to other regions was constrained by low-bandwidth
FACTORS IMPACTING THE DIFFUSION OF THE INTERNET
Economic factors such as income level, availability and price structures of ICT products
and services, and bandwidth and supporting infrastructures influence the diffusion of the
Internet (Kshetri 2001). The cost of a PC as a proportion of GDP, for instance, is 5 per
cent in high-income countries compared to about 300 per cent in low-income countries
(ITU 2001a). In January 2001, the price of the cheapest Pentium III computer was US$
700 (UNDP 2001b), an amount much higher than the average per capita GDP of most
developing countries. Similarly, monthly Internet access charge as a proportion of per
capita GDP in 2001 varied from 1.2 percent in the U.S. to 118 per cent in Sierra Leone
Economic factors influence the means used to access the Internet. Many people in
developing countries who cannot afford PCs, can access the Internet through public
kiosks and cafes at much lower rates (e.g., Kirby 2002). Paging networks are popular in
China because of the higher costs of computer and the fixed Internet access
(Ebusinessforum.com 2000). In Japan, the popularity of NTT DoCoMo’s i-Mode
services, and the government’s effort to lower the cost of data flow over the mobile
network, accelerated the growth of mobile Internet (Stout 2001).
Finally, bandwidth availability is a determinant of Internet adoption and diffusion.
In general, it is very low in developing countries. For instance, 50 percent of the
worldwide bandwidth capacity is in North America compared to 3 percent in the Middle
East and Africa (Frontline.net 2001). Lower bandwidth results in longer time to transfer
data and hence low relative advantage of Internet use. Moreover, the lack of intraregional
infrastructures in developing nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America means that even
Internet communications with neighboring countries have to be routed through the U.S.
or other industrialized countries in Europe, further increasing the costs. When high
bandwidth is available and reasonably priced, as in South Korea, it becomes a driver of
rapid Internet diffusion.
The degree of compatibility of the Internet and its various uses with the values and norms
of a social system (Rogers 1983) influences its diffusion patterns in that social system.
An examination of the ‘values’ and ‘culture’ inherent in the Internet, thus, helps predict
the degree of acceptance or rejection of the Internet in a society. An important component
of the value system is related to skills required to use the Internet. Literacy and computer
skills are almost the prerequisites to Internet use. A large proportion of the population in
developing countries is illiterate and still higher proportion lacks computer skills.5
Moreover, Internet tends to favor the English-speaking population because most of the
software and interfaces used in the Internet are in English. Also, a large proportion of the
WWW content is in English language. For instance, a survey conducted in 1998 found
that about 85 per cent of the texts on the WWW were in English (Nunberg 2000), which
decreased to about 80 percent in 1999 (Nua Internet Surveys 1999a).
Internet’s asynchronous nature and impersonal style of communications tend to
make it incompatible with the cultures of some societies. For instance, in Japan personal
correspondence is normally handwritten to show respect and courtesy (James 1998).
Another component of the Internet’s value system has to do with the place of
origin of the core technology as well as the bulk of the content. The Internet originated in
Some attempts to overcome the literacy and language barriers are under way. One such attempt is the
creation of the Simputer (Sterling 2001), “a small hand-held device designed for the rough conditions of
rural India. It operates – without a keyboard – through touch, sound and simple visual icons. It translates
English-language Web sites into local Indian languages, reading the content aloud to illiterate users.”
the U.S. and most of the content available on the WWW originates in the western
countries. Many people in the East, thus, tend to doubt the integrity of information
originating from the Western world and view the use of English as a vehicle for
executing an electronic “Pax Americana” (Shabazz 1999).
National institutions can take measures to influence an innovation as well as its diffusion.
As discussed in the previous section, then U.S. President Eisenhower took initiatives to
create the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the U.S. Department of
Defense in 1958, thereby laying the foundation for the Internet. Similarly, measures taken
by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1985 to make the TCP/IP the mandatory
protocol accelerated the diffusion of the Internet.
Political support strongly influences the diffusion pattern of the Internet.
Investments in modern ICTs alone will not bridge the digital divide in the absence of
such political support (Koss 2001). Internet diffusion in several countries, especially the
developing ones, has been hampered by political factors such as authoritarian
governments’ concern about the flow of information on the Internet, tariff/non-tariff
barriers to ICT products, and unfavorable regulatory environments that negatively
influence the telecom markets (Kshetri 2001). The Internet has been described as “the
greatest democratizer the world has ever seen” (Pitroda 1993, p. 66). It is, thus,
incompatible with most of the authoritarian regimes. Threatened by free flow of
information on the Internet and the possible negative impact on their “right to rule”,
authoritarian regimes such as those of Malaysia, China, Singapore, Syria, and Cuba have
opted for several mechanisms to control the Internet. For instance, the Chinese
government closed 150,000 unlicensed Internet cafes following a deadly fire in a Beijing
Internet cafe and the remaining cafes are required to install software that prevents access
to up to 500,000 banned pornographic sites or sites with “subversive content” (BBC
News 2002). Similarly, a recent study conducted by Harvard Law School found that a
central array of proxy servers in Saudi Arabia filters and blocks “sexually explicit”
content (Hermida 2002).
Authoritarian regimes are also slow to enact laws to recognize digital and
electronic signatures (DES) (Kshetri and Dholakia 2001). Many democratic governments
lack DES laws as well. By the end of 2000, for instance, only about 45 nations in the
world had laws recognizing DES (Stephens 2001). Lack of DES laws has hampered the
use of the Internet for commercial and government services in several countries.
Tariff and non-tariff barriers and regulations in telecom markets are hindering e-
commerce development in some developing markets. Many developing countries tend to
treat ICT products as luxury items and impose import duty, surtax, value added tax, sales
tax, etc., making these products expensive and unobtainable (UNCTAD 2000).
Measures Taken by International Agencies
Several international institutions have launched ICT-led initiatives to accelerate the
diffusion of the Internet (Kshetri 2001, 2003; Shadrach 2002). First, international
agencies have helped introduce the Internet for the first time in developing countries that
lacked the infrastructures for the Internet (Brown et. al. 1976). In this way, the
international agencies are breaking the “hierarchical pattern” (Gatignon and Robertson
1985, p. 858) of Internet diffusion – a pattern of slow trickle-down of innovations from
the rich to the poor. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) introduced the
Internet in more than fifteen countries by connecting them to the global network (UNDP
2001). Similarly, the World Bank initiated the Information for Development Program
(InfoDev) in1995 to promote projects emphasizing the use of ICTs for economic and
social development. This program has a special emphasis on the needs of the poorest in
Second, some international agencies are helping to reduce the gap between skills
required for Internet use and existing skills of potential users in developing countries. By
early 2001, for instance, UNDP had trained over 25,000 organizations and helped create
over 40,000 websites for governments and civil society stakeholders (UNDP 2001).
Third, international institutions are influencing national governments to increase
the level of competition in the telecom sector, which has resulted in the availability of
higher quality ICT products and services at lower prices. In 1997, 60 developing
countries made commitments to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to introduce
competition in the telecom sector. Similarly, 13 developing countries also signed the
Information Technology Agreements (ITA) under the WTO to eliminate customs duties
on seven broad categories of ICT products.
Fourth, international institutions are facilitating the Internet adoption by small and
medium sized enterprises (SMEs), which otherwise may be reluctant to adopt the
Internet. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
launched the Global Trade Point Network (GTPN) in 1992. Its objective is to facilitate
Internet adoption by SMEs, especially for accessing global markets. As of 2000, its
electronic trading opportunity (ETO) system connected more than 20,000 trade
Fifth, international institutions are influencing national laws, regulations and
policies, and are making them more conducive to the use of the Internet for various
purposes. The UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) undertook a
major initiative leading to the adoption of the Model Law on E-Commerce. Many
countries around the world have enacted new Internet laws by taking UNCITRAL model
law as the guideline. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) member
states also approved the establishment of WIPOnet, which provides basic, secure Internet
connectivity and services to the intellectual property offices. Similarly, International
Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has developed a model contract for privacy and transborder
data flows. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in a
similar manner, has developed action plans to address issues related to authentication,
certification, consumer protection, and privacy in the use of the Internet (Kshetri 2001).
The differences in social systems across the world have been selectively
summarized in Table 7 to show the influence of several factors shaping the diffusion
dynamics of the Internet. It is quickly evident that countries with the lowest Internet
penetration levels also have the highest restrictions on civil liberties (e.g. Sierra Leone,
Pakistan and Cuba). It is possible to overcome some of the barriers to Internet
penetration created by restricted civil liberties through high literacy levels, as in the case
of China and Singapore. In addition to an open society and high literacy, economic
resources are also necessary. Countries with the highest Internet penetration levels also
have the highest levels of per capita income (e.g. USA, Finland). Finally, socio-cultural
factors such as English language skills explain some of the differences in Internet
penetration between Australia and Japan.
Table 7 about here
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
In this chapter, we provided an overview of the global diffusion of the Internet and
examined the factors that have shaped and are continuing to shape the diffusion dynamics
of the Internet. The diffusion pattern of an innovation such as the Internet is a function of
economic, political, cultural, and geographical factors. Since social systems across the
world differ significantly in terms of these factors, diffusion patterns of the Internet also
vary widely across nations. Low levels of income, authoritarian governments’ distaste
toward the Internet, sociocultural environments that are incompatible with the Internet,
and terrestrial barriers have hampered the rapid diffusion of the Internet in developing
countries. As a result, developing countries account for a disproportionately lower
number of Internet users and Internet hosts worldwide. Enlightened public policies,
forward-looking corporate strategies, and concerted efforts by international agencies are
of value in extending the reach of the Internet to all parts of the globe.
Table 1: Growth in the number of Internet hosts
Year No. of hosts No. of Remarks
1965 2 -- TX-2 and Q-32 connection.
1970 4 -- ARPANET project had a backbone of 4 computers.
1972 -- E-Mail introduced
1973 -- TCP/IP developed
1975 100 --
1980 200 --“Enquire Within”, predecessor of WWW,
1985 2,000 -- TCP/IP mandatory for NSFNET
1986 5,000 --
1987 10,000 --
1989 100,000 0.1
1990 200,000 0.2 NSFNET succeeded ARPANET
1993 2,700,000 2.7 Mosaic Web Browser developed
1994 5,800,000 5.8
1995 14,000,000 14.0 Windows 95
1996 22,000,000 22.0
1997 30,000,000 30.0
1998 43,000,000 43.0
1999 72,000,000 72.0
2000 104,000,000 104.0
Source: ITU (2001b); Schwimmer (2002), Webopedia.com (2002), and authors’ research.
Table 2: Geographical distribution of the Internet users worldwide (September 2002)
World Region Number of Internet users Remarks
(% of world population) (% of world users)
North America 182.67 million Enjoys many
(5.6% of world population) (30.2% of the total Internet advantages. The place of
users in the world) origin of most Internet
Europe 190.91 million Early connection to
(13.5% of world population) (31.5% of the total Internet ARPANET proved to be
users in the world) of great value.
Asia-Pacific 187.24 million Some of the most
(60.2% of world population) (30.9% of the total Internet rapidly growing Internet
users in the world) markets located here.
Latin America 33.35 million Except Mexico, Internet
(8.3% of world population) (5.5% of the total Internet entered late, but is
users in the world) growing very fast.
Africa/Middle East 11.43 million Israel was a pioneer.
(12.4% of world population) (1.9% of the total Internet Sub-Saharan Africa was
users in the world) very late. South Africa
World (Total) 605.60 million Expected to reach a
billion or more by the
end of the decade.
Sources: Kshetri and Dholakia (2002),
http://www.nua.ie/surveys/how_many_online/index.html, authors’ research
Table 3: Internet users (IU) and Internet hosts (IH) in Africa and Middle East (1999)
IH per 1000
IU per 1000 people
Country IU (1999) people (1999) IH (1999) (1999)
Algeria 4000 4.0 158 0.005
Angola 15400 1.2 12 0.0009
Botswana 30000 18.8 790 0.5
Burkina Faso 3200 0.3 211 0.02
Burundi 700 03 54 0.008
Cameroon 8000 1.3 6 0.0004
Cape Verde 250 12.5
Republic 900 0.3 8 0.002
Cote d'Ivoire 15000 1.3 254 0.02
Djibouti 1300 2.2 6 0.009
Egypt 350000 4.4 3025 0.04
Ethiopia 10000 0.1 78 0.001
Ghana 18000 1.0 211 0.01
Iran 250000 1.5 293 0.004
Israel 946000 171.1 143230 23.4
Jordan 85300 17.5 518 0.07
Kenya 52000 1.5 926 0.03
Kuwait 95000 50.7 8536 4.5
Lebanon 210000 63.6 4291 1.3
Lesotho 1000 0.5 19 0.009
Liberia 400 0.2 1350 0.5
Libya 6800 1.2
Madagascar 5300 0.3 122 0.007
Malawi 7000 0.7 1 0.00009
Maldives 3000 10.0 160 0.5
Mali 1900 0.2 1 0.00009
Mauritania 160000 61.6 21 0.008
Mauritius 45000 39.1 776 0.7
Morocco 160000 5.7 2719 0.09
Mozambique 17000 0.9 254 0.01
Namibia 14000 8.3 5175 3.05
Niger 1400 0.1 36 0.003
Nigeria 12000 0.1 820 0.007
Oman 35000 14.2 668 0.27
Qatar 40000 67.9 20 0.03
Rwanda 450 0.1
Saudi Arabia 230000 11.0 638 0.03
Senegal 12750 1.4 320 0.03
Seychelles 4500 57.0 7 0.09
South Africa 1899000 47.6 165600 4.1
Sudan 3400 0.1 1 0.00003
Swaziland 4200 4.3 300 0.3
Syrian Arab Rep 17000 1.1 1 0.00006
Tanzania 9500 0.3 250 0.007
Tunisia 78000 8.2 30 0.003
Uganda 35000 1.7 776 0.03
United Arab Emirates 350000 146.0 35000 14.6
Yemen Republic 10000 0.6 30 0.002
Zambia 12000 1.3 400 0.04
Zimbabwe 35000 3.0 1585 0.1
Source: Euromonitor (2001a, b)
Table 4: Internet users (IU) and Internet hosts (IH) in Asia-Pacific (1999)
IU per 1000 IH IH per 1000 people
Country IU (1999) people (1999) (1999) (1999)
Armenia 4500 1.3 1788 0.5
Australia 5000000 267.3 950400 50.8
Azerbaijan 1378 0.2 522 0.1
Bahrain 36000 59.4 866 1.4
Bangladesh 2400 0.02
Bhutan 25500 0.2 54 0.02
Brunei 20000 62.1 2390 7.4
Cambodia 2450 0.2 90 0.008
China 7000000 5.5 25882 0.02
Hong Kong 1500000 220.5 99600 14.6
India 2500000 2.5 24518 0.02
Indonesia 1360000 6.5 22399 0.1
Japan 20458000 162.1 2337880 18.5
Kazakhstan 40000 2.4 1776 0.1
Kyrgyz Rep 5024 1.1 2500 0.5
Lao PDR 26300 5.0
Macao 75000 160.6 150 0.3
Malaysia 1200000 55.0 57422 2.6
Mongolia 3600 1.4 25 0.009
Nepal 30000 1.3 168 0.007
New Zealand 800000 209.0 145000 37.9
Pakistan 100000 0.7 6192 0.04
Philippines 380000 5.1 16330 0.2
Singapore 1200000 340.7 73810 21.0
South Korea 10106000 215.5 276468 5.9
Sri Lanka 40000 2.1 550 0.03
Taiwan 4790000 216.6 509850 23.1
Tajikistan 148 0.02
Thailand 650000 10.7 28860 0.5
Turkmenistan 300 0.1
Uzbekistan 25000 1.1 472 0.02
Vietnam 25000 0.3 34 0.0004
Source: Euromonitor (2001a, b)
Table 5: Internet users (IU) and Internet hosts (IH) in Europe (1999)
IU per 1000 people IH per 1000
Country IU (1999) (1999) IH (1999) people (1999)
Austria 1650000 201.8 259500 31.7
Belarus 10000 1 1578 0.2
Belgium 1840000 181.2 365155 36.0
Bulgaria 210000 25.4 14935 1.8
Croatia 400000 89.3 10457 2.3
Cyprus 60000 77.1 8334 10.7
Czech Republic 550000 53.5 116750 11.4
Denmark 2100000 397.6 417200 79.0
Estonia 250000 177 34062 24.1
Finland 2088550 404.3 483000 93.5
France 7200000 122.2 702625 11.9
Georgia 8750 1.7 1107 0.2
Germany 12300000 149.7 1721150 20.9
Gibraltar 1801 379 0.0
Greece 1480000 139.3 34515 3.2
Hungary 450000 44.7 139000 13.8
Iceland 135000 135 31250 31.3
Ireland 500000 155.1 76526 23.7
Italy 9100000 158.7 579900 10.1
Latvia 150000 62.8 25081 10.5
Lithuania 140000 38 18819 5.1
Luxembourg 75000 176.1 10831 25.4
Macedonia 45000 22.4 1853 0.9
Malta 40000 103.6 2849 7.4
Moldova 25000 5.7 2040 0.5
Netherlands 4100000 260.6 871000 55.4
Norway 2000000 450.2 342925 77.2
Poland 1950000 50.3 178160 4.6
Portugal 800000 81 70000 7.1
Romania 385000 17.2 38791 1.7
Russia 5400000 36.7 230176 1.6
Slovakia 1000000 185.8 32045 6.0
Slovenia 490000 246.4 26335 13.2
Spain 3625000 91.5 460500 11.6
Sweden 3950000 444.2 416900 46.9
Switzerland 1700000 231.5 301350 41.0
Turkey 1200000 18.3 70865 1.1
Ukraine 262500 5.2 29663 0.6
United Kingdom 15200000 258.8 1956150 33.3
Source: Euromonitor (2001a, b)
Table 6: Internet users (IU) and Internet hosts (IH) in Latin America and the Caribbean
IU per 1000 people IH per 1000 people
Country IU (1999) (1999) IH (1999) (1999)
Argentina 520000 14.2 132000 3.6
Barbados 12000 44.6 88 0.3
Belize 20000 85.8 260 1.1
Bolivia 42000 5.3 689 0.09
Brazil 6800000 40.3 376425 2.2
Chile 425000 28.5 451510 30.3
Colombia 450000 11.6 25110 0.6
Costa Rica 150000 38.6 3587 0.9
Cuba 50000 4.5 120 0.01
Dominica 48000 738.5
Ecuador 16500 1.3 1935 0.2
El Salvador 50000 8.2 1250 0.2
Guatemala 100000 9.1 1233 0.1
Guyana 3500 5.0 72 0.1
Haiti 4000 0.5
Honduras 27000 4.3 129 0.02
Jamaica 100000 39.2 386 0.2
Mexico 2100000 21.6 197750 2.0
Nicaragua 25000 5.1 865 0.2
Panama 52500 18.8 816 0.3
Paraguay 20000 3.8 2121 0.4
Peru 400000 15.0 5987 0.2
Surinam 10854 25.2 1 0.002
Trinidad 40000 31.1 3013 2.3
Uruguay 320000 96.9 22706 6.9
Venezuela 500000 20.9 13842 0.6
Source: Euromonitor (2001a, b)
Table 7: Internet Penetration and related indicators for selected economies in the world
Internet Penetration Factors Influencing Internet Penetration
No. of No. of Rank Order
Internet Internet of Internet
users hosts Penetration GNP per Civil Liberty Literacy
per 1000 per 1000 (within capita ($, Pop. Index rate
Country (1999) (1999 region) 2000) (‘000), (2000) (2000) (%, 2000)
Israel 155.1 23.5 1 16310 5842 2 95.7
Emirates 146.0 14.6 17276 2369 5 74.6
Africa 47.6 4.2 3020 43421 2 84.6
Leone 1.5 0.0 130 5233 5 31
Singapore 340.7 21.0 1 24740 4152 5 91.8
Australia 267.3 50.8 2 20530 19165 1 99
Japan 162.1 18.5 3 34210 126550 2 99
China 5.5 0.0 4 840 1261832 6 82.8
Pakistan 0.7 0.0 5 470 141554 5 44
Finland 404.4 93.5 1 24900 5167 1 99
Slovenia 246.4 13.2 2 10070 1928 2 99.6
Portugal 81.0 7.1 3 11060 10048 1 91.4
Romania 17.2 1.7 4 1670 22411 2 97.9
Uruguay 96.9 6.9 1 6090 3334 2 97.6
Argentina 14.2 3.6 2 7440 36955 3 96.7
Bolivia 5.3 0.1 3 1000 8153 3 84.4
Cuba 4.5 0.0 4 (ppp) 11142 7 96.4
USA 351.7 145.6 1 34260 275563 1 99
Mexico 21.6 2.0 2 5080 100350 4 90.8
Notes: 1. ppp stands for purchasing power parity
2. Civil liberty index: 1 represents most free and 7 represents least free.
http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/cu.html#Econ, European Marketing
Data and Statistics, Freedom House, International Marketing Data and Statistics,
Figure 1: Number of countries connected to the Internet
200 191 200
93 94 95 96 97 98 99 2000
Source: ITU (2001b)
Figure 2: Uneven distribution of the Internet worldwide
80 % I hosts
60 % I users
40 % Pop
Sources: Kshetri and Dholakia (2002),
http://www.nua.ie/surveys/how_many_online/index.html, authors’ research
Figure 3: Global distribution of Internet hosts and Internet users
Hosts: 42.2m Users: 187m
Users: 33m Hosts: 0.4m
Note: Internet user data are for September 2002 and Internet host data are for the year
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